Every day people get rid of billions of tons of trash.
The garbage mainly comes from industry, but it also comes from homes, apartments, schools, etc.
Americans are the worst when it comes to garbage. Americans produce an unbelievable amount of garbage simply by living their daily lives. As a matter of fact, the average American generates about 4.6 pounds of solid trash a day! That means each average American produces about 9.2 pounds of trash in only two days. In a year’s time, that equals 1,460 pounds of trash per person. If you consider the population of the United States, you will see that as a country, they get rid of about 210 million tons of junk every year! Schools, hospitals, businesses and government agencies also produce a lot of garbage.
All of this garbage has to go somewhere, and that “somewhere” is usually a landfill. Garbage is dumped into a landfill and is then covered with dirt. However, we are quickly running out of landfill space, not only in the United States, but also around the world.
The answer to this landfill shortage is simply for people to follow the 3R’s by reducing, reusing, and recycling.
WHY DO WE NEED TO USE THE 3R’S?
Before I explain more about reducing, reusing and recycling, let’s take a look at the main reasons why we need to do these things. There are four main reasons why we need to use the 3R’s. They are to save space, save natural resources, save energy, and to reduce pollution.
As you've already read, most garbage goes into landfills, which is the modern version of a garbage dump. However, the world is running out of landfill space. Also, the space that is used for landfills could be used for other purposes such as homes, farms, parks, businesses, schools, etc. This space could also be kept as wilderness for the pleasure of both people and animals. The answer is simple: if we recycle, we will cut down on the space needed for landfills.
By the way, landfills also cause another problem. Landfills are very unhealthy places. When rain or snow falls on the landfills and then seeps into the garbage, they turn into a poisonous, soupy liquid called leachate. This leachate sinks into the ground and pollutes the groundwater under the landfill. It also can leak into streams, lakes and natural wells. Then we need to make sure that this poisonous liquid does not get into our drinking water! If it does, it is very expensive and difficult to purify the water to get rid of this contaminated substance.
Saving Natural Resources
Another reason we should recycle is to save our natural resources. Natural resources are materials that come from the earth such as water, oil, plants, trees, metal, minerals, etc. Many products that we use every day are made from different natural resources. For example, paper is made from trees, plastic is made from oil, cans are made from metal, etc. Every time we throw away paper, broken toys, soda cans, and so on, we are really throwing away the earth’s resources. The solution is really easy. If we reuse and recycle various products, we are saving precious natural resources. For example, if we recycle and reuse paper, we are saving trees and water. In the United States, almost 95% of our original forest area is gone. Cutting down fewer trees will also help animals, because trees are homes for many different birds and animals.
Eventually we will run out of natural resources if we just throw away all of our trash. The earth has a limited supply of natural resources, so we must be responsible by reducing, reusing, and recycling products every single day. This would allow us to take fewer materials out of Mother Earth!
Recycling also saves energy, which comes from natural resources such as coal, oil, or natural gas. We need energy to do hundreds of things like making light, heat, powering our computers, playing our video games, baking cookies, and making our cars run.
By recycling, we can save energy in two different ways. One way is to reuse materials instead of throwing them away and making new items, which would take energy in order to get the natural resources from the earth all over again. For example, we can reuse glass jars, plastic containers, cloth, and many other items. Therefore, we are saving energy if we don’t have to make new products to take the place of the ones we throw away.
Another way that recycling saves energy is that it takes factories less energy to recycle materials into new things, than it takes to use natural resources to make products in the first place. A good example is the recycling of soda cans. Can you believe that it takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum cans than it does to make new aluminum cans? Soda cans can be recycled over and over again. Another example is that recycling just one pound of steel can light up a 60 watt light bulb for over a day.
While manufacturing any kind of product makes some pollution, factories that use recycled materials create much less pollution than those that make things from raw materials. One example is that paper mills that recycle paper make a lot less water pollution than the mills that turn trees into paper. Also, factories that use recycled aluminum to make new aluminum products reduce air and water pollution by 95%.
Another pollution problem is that garbage in landfills creates a gas that contains a very dangerous air pollutant which can cause cancer. Also, rain and snow mixed with this garbage makes a poisonous liquid called leachate that pollutes groundwater. Used oil that is put in the garbage rather than recycled also drips into the ground and pollutes rivers, wells, and lakes.
In some cities, waste is burned rather than put into landfills. However, burning garbage also creates poisonous gases that pollute the air.
In conclusion, recycling materials helps keep the air and water clean, which is good for people, plants and animals.
Now that you've learned about the four main reasons why we need to reduce, reuse, and recycle, let’s talk about what the 3R’s really mean.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REDUCE?
One way to help with this huge garbage problem is to “reduce.” This means to cut down on the garbage or waste that we produce in the first place. We can reduce our garbage by making smart choices before we buy things, which is referred to as “precycling.” It can also be thought of as “refusing” to buy certain items. For example, try not to buy items that you will only use once and then throw away. Refusing to buy things that we don’t really need also helps the environment. We should not buy things that can’t be recycled, but instead we should purchase things that are made of recycled materials.
Another way we can precycle is to refuse to purchase over packaged goods. “Over packaged” items have multiple layers of packaging, which is a waste of our natural resources. We always take off this extra packaging and throw it right into the garbage. What makes it even worse is that most of this packaging cannot even be recycled at all.
Precycling would also mean buying unpackaged or “bare” items when you can. An example would be to buy loose tomatoes instead of those that come in plastic packages. Another choice would be to buy things in bulk, or to buy a bigger container of things that you use often. This would save you some money and would reduce waste at the same time. In conclusion, less packaging and fewer unnecessary items equals less garbage in our landfills.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REUSE?
Another “R,” reuse, is another important way to help with the garbage problem. Reusing means to find ways that either you or someone else can use your unwanted items over again. So instead of throwing away your old books, toys, clothes, games, etc. - reuse them!
Sometimes you can even find creative ways to use items you might otherwise throw away. For example, you could make a purse out of an old pair of jeans.
It is also possible that other people may be able to use things that you no longer want. You could donate items to a shelter, hospital, charity, or to other worthy causes. You could also sell items at a resale shop or at your own garage sale. Items that are not valuable to you could be a treasure to someone else.
Another way to reuse things is to fix items that are broken. Many times people throw away belongings that really could be repaired. Examples are fixing a broken chair or a broken lamp, gluing a chipped bowl, or mending a torn piece of clothing.
When we reuse items or allow someone else to reuse our items, we are reducing the amount of garbage in our landfills. We are also saving our natural resources, since all of the things we buy and use come from the earth.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO RECYCLE?
Recycling is when you put discarded items through a process so they can be used again. In other words, recycling means turning something old into something new.
Most of the products we use every day can be recycled. Examples include glass, plastic, steel, aluminum and even used motor oil. Paper is one of the most commonly recycled items. Many different kinds of paper products can be recycled, such as newspapers, magazines, school papers, mail, office papers, greeting cards, paper bags, cardboard, printer paper, wrapping paper, and notebook paper.
Some materials are recycled into more of the same material. Glass can be crushed and made into more glass, and aluminum can be melted and turned into more aluminum. But not all things are recycled into the same kind of product. An example is that carpet can be made from plastic bottles that have been shredded and melted.
Another way you can help the earth is to buy items that are made from materials that have been recycled. Some examples are writing paper, paper towels, greeting cards, garbage bags and even toilet paper! Labels on products will tell you if they have been made from recycled materials.
In order to look at specific ways we can reduce, reuse, and recycle at school visit the 3R's At School web page.
Facts About Garbage
Do you have any idea how much garbage Americans throw away each year? Believe it or not, they throw away 65 million plastic and metal jar and can covers, 27 billion glass jars and bottles, and 50 billion drink and food cans.
In the one year between 1997 and 1998 Americans produced an increase of four million tons of solid waste. In 1997, they produced 220 million tons of waste. You can probably do the math and see that in 1998 they produced 224 million tons of waste.
The average American generates about 4.6 lbs. of solid trash a day. In only two days they produce about 9.2 lbs. of trash!
Did you know that 195 million tons of garbage gets tossed out each year by Americans? That’s enough to fill 108,000 garbage trucks!
Facts About Paper
What material do you think takes up the most landfill space? The answer is NEWSPAPERS! One way to help is to recycle old newspapers.
Try and guess the average amount of newspapers that Americans buy each day. Experts report that the average amount of newspapers Americans buy each day is about 65 million copies, and they throw away about 44 million newspapers a week. In other words, they get rid of what would equal 500,000 trees every single week.
As a matter of fact, since Americans use so much paper, they cut down about 850 million trees each year just so they can make more paper products. That’s an awful lot of trees that are cut down!
Facts About Landfills
Where in the world do we put all of this garbage? Well, about 85% of it is taken to landfills or dumps. Once the garbage is in a dump or landfill, some products can take between 100 to 400 years to decompose, such as aluminum and cloth. Glass never breaks down and has been discovered in perfect shape after 4,000 years!
Also, did you know that the amount of landfills in the U.S. is dropping? In 1988 there were about 8,000 landfills, and in 1998 there were only 2,514. Landfill space is disappearing quickly and that is a huge problem for the U.S. To help solve this problem, you can reduce, reuse and recycle instead of throwing away so much trash.
Facts About Recycling
People have been using and recycling glass for almost 3,000 years!
Can you believe that for every ton of glass we recycle, we can save a ton of the raw materials it would take to make new glass? Wow!
You can save 15 trees by recycling 1 ton of newspapers.
Do you know which countries recycle the greatest amount of paper each year on the average for each 1,000 citizens?
#1 Sweden-186 tons
#2 Austria-182 tons
#3 Switzerland-179 tons
#4 Germany-176 tons
#5 Netherlands-162 tons
Facts About Energy
Recycling can save energy. For example, if you recycle 1 bottle, you can save the amount of energy it takes to keep a 100-watt light bulb burning for 4 hours.
Also, air pollution can be reduced and energy can be saved by recycling. An example is that it takes twice the amount of energy to make newsprint from trees than it takes to recycle old newsprint.
Recycling happens more often in countries where it costs less. An example is that in Japan and in lots of European countries, they recycle because it is cheaper than other means of disposal.
In some countries, it costs more to recycle than to simply throw things away. It also makes a difference depending on the landfill sites available. If there are lots of landfill sites, then the country may not choose to recycle. If there isn't very much room for landfill sites, these countries may choose to recycle.
It also makes a difference whether or not there is transportation available. If there is transportation, the country is more likely to recycle.
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Books and Magazines
Amos, Janine. Waste and Recycling. Austin: Steck-Vaughn Co., 1993.
Blashfield, Jean F. and Wallace B. Black. Recycling. Chicago: Children’s Press, 1991.
The Earth Works Group. 50 Simple Things Kids Can do to Recycle.
Berkley: Earth Works Press, 1994.
The Earth Works Group. 50 Simple Things Kids Can do to Save the Earth. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel-A Universal Press Syndicate Company, 1990.
Elkington, John, Julia Hailes, Douglas Hill and Joel Makower. Going Green-A Kid’s Handbook to Saving the Planet. New York: The Penguin Group, 1990.
Gibbons, Gail. Recycle! Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1992.
James, Barbara. Waste and Recycling. Austin: Steck-Vaughn Co., 1990.
Kalbacken, Joan and Emilie U. Lepthien. Recycling. Chicago: Children’s Press Inc., 1991.
Schwartz, Linda. Earth Book For Kids-Activities to Help Heal the Environment. The Learning Works, 1990.
"Creating Less Trash at School." Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. 15 March 2007 <http://www.reduce.org/school/index.html>.
Permission to use all of the photographs on this page is granted under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License or images are in the public domain from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page> (December, 2007).
Permission to use all of the free clip art images on this page is granted by Teacher Created Resources at the Teachers Guide. <http://www.theteachersguide.com/Freebies.html> (March, 2007).
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